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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Keith Emerson and the Nice

Vivacitas - Live at Glasgow 2002

Review by Gary Hill

Billed as Keith Emerson and the Nice, this recent release is accurate with that name from a technical standpoint, but in some ways it is a little deceptive. While all of the music on the disc does feature Keith Emerson, only the first CD is actually with The Nice, and even then, it's only two of the members of the band (plus the keyboard wizard). The second CD was recorded with members of an Emerson Lake and Palmer tribute band providing musical support to Emerson. The third CD is a 20 or so minute interview with the Nice. Certainly this disc should be of great interest to Keith Emerson devotees, but fans of The Nice should be well pleased with it, too. For those, like myself, who have had little exposure to the band, the inclusion of the Emerson Lake and Palmer material might make it a safe (albeit a bit expensive) way to give a listen to this prog rock legend. All in all the set is pretty successful. While I would say that it isn't flawless, it is quite good.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
America/Rondo
An opening fanfare and quick spoken introduction gives way to a dramatic intro, Emerson's keys providing the bulk. This leads to a series of short solo segments overtop of rock and roll backdrop. Then a new Emerson solo segment leads into a guitar solo. Emerson takes a Hammond solo next. The same rock and roll backdrop is constant throughout. Then a fest paced prog jam takes it to a percussive section that is followed bye a piano solo. Next there is more keyboard wizardry as this wanders further and further into unexplored territory. This one is off and running by now wandering through more and more prog changes. Then they ramp it up to an incredibly powerful jam only to drop down to a sedate new segment. The percussion ramps it back up, at times nearly unaccompanied, then the band launch into another fast paced jam dominated by the drums. Emerson quotes come classical sections, and then moves into weirdness, the drums just going nuts behind him. Then it turns jazzy, Emerson still leading the way on this new segment. They crescendo to end this powerhouse instrumental. There is more speaking, introducing the members of the band, to end the track.
Little Arabella
This one comes in bouncy and playful with a bit of a lounge lizard texture. The vocal line carries this mode. Although they get a bit bombastic at times, this old textured sound provides the main elements to this. In this reviewer's opinion, this song is not all that. It's kind of cute, but a bit overlong, and just not that entertaining.

She Belongs to Me
With a keyboard intro, this is a hard rocking jam that works much better than the previous cut. It is fairly dynamic and features a wide diversity, between load and soft segments. It also includes a very intriguing prog rock break, at first atmospheric, then harder edged as it carries forward. Overall this is a consistent approach, but they pack enough prog instrumental work and changes (even a quote of a famous TV Western theme song) to entertain.
Cry of Eugene
This comes in as a rather odd ballad, a bit too far back in the arrangement. They gradually ramp it up, then jump up for the chorus. The vocal performance on this one is very evocative and the arrangement is interesting, if a bit unusual. While they throw a few prog changes into the mix, this stays pretty close to its origins, but it's a cool song.
Hang on to a Dream
An evocative ballad, this one is beautiful and powerful. It runs through like this for a time, ramping up a bit. Eventually the band launches into an inspired and potent extended prog exploration, covering a lot of themes and textures. They even turn it a bit jazzy at times. It includes a rather cool drum solo, too.

Country Pie
Bass starts this one, and as the percussion enters it becomes a funky groove. Emerson's organ adds to this texture. The vocals are also in this mode. After a while in this style a droning takes it into something that feels like a cross between prog, circus music and old time movie sounds. It jumps back to the earlier mode after a short time, then a new prog excursion eventually takes it. From there they turn it rather bluesy. They carry on the prog jamming in this format. This is another fun prog rocker that gets pretty intense at times.
Karelia Suite
Keys are the opening instrument here and carry this for a while. After running by themselves playfully for a while the rest of the band join in a dramatic processional that reminds me a bit of "Camptown Races". They move out of this into a new hard-edged dramatic progression, then Emerson takes control, weaving trails of keyboard sounds all over. The cut moves through various changes mostly as a backdrop to Emerson. The guitar does put in a pretty awesome solo in the course of this, though. It gets quite intense and frantic after a time, but eventually drops way back to end.
Disc 2
Blade of Grass
This is a rather intricate piano solo.
Cajun Alley
Another piano solo, this one is more frantic and rather honky tonk in texture. It gets pretty busy and a bit dissonant at times.
Tarkus
Here they take on this ELP classic and perform it pretty much in its entirety. They put in quite a solid performance of the piece. However, during segments of the number (specifically "Stones of Years" and "Mass") Greg Lake's vocals are replaced by guitar playing the vocal lines. At points the guitar line also feels a bit more crunchy than the original. The later acoustic segment does have the vocals, though. The performance, while sounding a bit like Lake's isn't as high in quality.
Hoe Down
Another ELP classic, this one is given a solid treatment here.
Fanfare for the Common Man
Once again covering Emerson Lake and Palmer territory, this one has always been a favorite of mine, and they give this ELP treatment of the Aaron Copeland piece a grand recreation.
Honky Tonk Blues
The final song of the album, this is a classy boogie-woogie jam at first on piano, then with all the instruments.
 
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